Interview ~ Sitaram Yechuri, CPI-M Politburo member
by Bappaditya Paul
Desperate to see a Third alternative government at the Centre, the CPI-M this time is too busy in the permutation and combination of smaller parties like never before. And with its man for all seasons, Mr Sitaram Yechuri on the prowl, both the Congress and the BJP must worry about their flocks. In an exclusive interview with BAPPADITYA PAUL, Mr Yechuri throws light on the goings-on at the backstage and the proposed priorities of the Third alternative government, if that happens at all.
Q After the 2004 elections, CPI-M supported the Congress to keep the BJP away from power. But this time around, what will be your priority ~ to stop the BJP or the Congress?
~ Both. We want to stop both the Congress and the BJP from occupying the power and instead, form a Third alternative government at the Centre.
Q In every practical sense, what you foresee the outcome of this polls?
~ Well, what I foresee is that the final act of this drama will unfold only post elections. This is in the nature of the political developments in the last two decades or so that, it is only post elections that the ruling front is formed. This happened in 1996 with United Front been formed post elections, in 1998 NDA been formed after the elections and in 2004 UPA formed after the elections.
So this time around what we are working for is a post election non-Congress, non-BJP alternative.
Q But is it really practical to think of a non-Congress, non-BJP front to occupy the power?
~ Well, this will be a new thing. I understand when people say, if it is viable, if the arithmetic will work? But remember when the 14th Lok Sabha ended, the total of the BJP and Congress MPs was less than the majority for the first time. So that’s an indication, in which way the wind is blowing.
And as you can see, more and more BJP or Congress allies like the BJD, AIADMK or the RJD, NCP has either deserted them or is keeping the options open. That’s why I say; concretely it will depend on the post election arithmetic.
Q Given the kind of alliances that we are witnessing this time, is ideological politics have become a thing of the past even for the Left?
~ No, no, that’s not true. We have been the one who constituently stuck to our ideological positions and we continue to do that. Because what is the necessity for such formation. You see, every time ~ 1996 or 2004, there was always the objective to stop the BJP from coming to the power which we believed, had to be achieved at that point of time for the future development of our country.
Here at the present moment, the objective is to give an alternative policy direction to the country and this we believe is very very important both for tackling the Capitalist global recession and also for the growing problems within the country like terrorism, social injustice etc. So who will affect a shift in this policy direction, that’s the issue.
Q Do you see the parties like AGP, NCP etc as potential Third alternative partners post elections?
~ As far as the AGP is concerned, I would consider it as most unnatural alliance with the BJP. Remember, the AGP was an important element in the formation of the United Front in 1996 and it was the UF that initiated the process of treating the Northeast as a special case ~ announcing special package for the NE, North East Council and so on.
All these were actually the contributions of a non-Congress, non-BJP government. So the AGP sticking with the BJP, I think its most unnatural. Lets see, what happens after the elections. Again our party is already into an election alliance with the NCP in Orissa.
Q Are you trying to woo others like the RJD, LJP?
~ Actually, today there is no need to go and woo anybody. Because the parties themselves are fairly mature and my observations in the last six months say that each of these parties are under tremendous pressure from their own social following. People are yearning for change and its now up to us, the political leadership, to give a tangible expression to the public sentiment.
Now, this pressure is working upon every small/regional party leadership and thus, some of them are already in touch (with us) for post poll tie-ups.
Q Does that include Mr Lalu Prashad?
~ Yes, he is in touch.
Q Can the Samajwadi Party also be a post-poll ally?
~ Well, we have appealed to all secular parties to come forward. We have worked with them in the past, so that should not be a problem.
Q Given the fact that both SP and BSP can’t be on the same boat, who would be your choice?
~ These are the things we will decide post elections. We have an understanding with the BSP that we would work together post elections. Now this working together is crucially depending on its political strength post elections.
Q But even after all this permutation and combinations, if the numbers are still not enough for the Third alternative to form a government, will the CPI-M concede to outside support from the Congress, like 1996?
~ Our objective would be not to have such a situation. Because, it was always the outside support that was the cause for instability of the previous governments be it (late Mr) VP Singh, (Mr) Devegowda or (Mr) Gujaral. Therefore, our objective would be to work for a government without the need for outside support.
Q So under any circumstances, the Left won’t do business with the Congress again?
~ Well, this is a question, which will have to be considered on the situations that emerge after the polls. But right now, our focus is to form a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative government.
Q You broke up with the Congress because of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. If the Congress decides to drop the Nuclear Deal as per the Left’s wishes, will you back the Congress then?
~ If the Congress was to drop the Nuclear Deal, why it went with it in the first place? If the deal was not an important thing (for it), then why they break such a stable arrangement with us? I don’t think this will happen; much water has passed by this time.
Q But if a Third alternative really comes to power, as you are envisaging, would you rework the Nuclear Deal?
~ Yes. Certainly we will rework the deal in the sense that there are provisions in the 123 Agreement that and our objective would be to eliminate all the baggage that came with the Nuclear Deal. Nuclear commerce per se is not any problematic; the problem is the conditions that have come with it.
There are pressures on our foreign policy, on defence agreements and understanding, the logistic support like refueling etc that we have to give to the USA whenever it undertakes any military adventure. All these conditions will have to be eliminated.
Q Would the Left, particularly, the CPI-M join the Third alternative government if that really happens?
~ We are bound by our 1998 party Congress decision, which says if there is such a situation in future, the Central Committee of the time would take a decision whether to join the government or not. So now we will have to wait till the elections are over and then the Central Committee would meet.
Q So you are not ruling out the possibility?
~ Yes. I said, the CC would discuss this and take a decision.
Q Of late, the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr LK Advani are involved in a debate attacking each other. How do you evaluate the episode?
~ Neither of them have anything concrete to offer to the people. They are not able to offer anything tangible to offer the people and in the absence of this, they have indulged in hurling charges and counter charges. The whole thing is so surreal. I must say, both PM and Mr Advani has stooped to the same level.
Q Coming to West Bengal, what is your take on the Congress-Trinamul alliance?
~ What was de facto arrangement between the Congress and the TMC has now become a de jure arrangement. So lets see what impact it can possibly have this elections.
Q Given the trend in the recent panchayat, by-polls in WB, do you think that the common people are shifting away from the CPI-M?
~ No, I don’t think so. Whatever loss we have suffered was primarily because of the differences within the LF allies. But now the LF unity has considerably improved and it is our great source of strength. The common people too are realising that the LF government is on the right path vis-à-vis industrialisation and development.
Q Last General Elections, the Left’s MP tally was around 60. Where would the number stand this time?
~ I am not an astrologer. But whatever be the number this time, one thing is sure that politics in India without the Left is not possible anymore.
Q It was the undivided CPI that raised the issue of separate homeland for the Gorkhas, but now your party says that Gokhaland demand is unacceptable. Has Bengali chauvinism taken over the CPI-M’s policy on this?
~ Certainly not. We are not only saying no to Gorkhaland, but are also opposed to the demand for other smaller states that exists elsewhere in the country, like Telegana, Bhidarva etc.
We are opposing not because of the sentiments in the concerned region, our opposition stands on the solid reasoning that after the loss of so many lives and debates in between 1953-56, we came to the final conclusion that new sates will be formed on the basis of dominant language.
So what we are saying that do not disturb the basis for this state reorganisation. The moment you deviate, a Pandora’s box will open up and there will be no end to it that will ultimately weaken the country.
(The interviewer is on the staff of The Statesman, India/ The highlights of this interview appeared in The Statesman on 23 April 2009)